Growing up in the early 1990s, a tween girl named Dawn loved watching "90210" and drinking pop. She loved wearing Guess jeans and teasing her bangs super-tall. She loved troll dolls. She loved song lyrics like, "Pump up the jam!" She loved a doe-eyed boy named Dan. • Most of all, Dawn Luebbe loved writing about her life in Lincoln. She recorded her innermost thoughts and the weighty topics of the day in one diary entry after another. She journaled faithfully through third, fourth and fifth grades. • Then she stopped. The diaries got tossed in a box. And Dawn grew up and moved first to New York, then Los Angeles. Some 20 years passed. • One day, when home visiting, Dawn's mother said something like: I'm cleaning the basement. Go through your stuff. • And that's when the old diaries resurfaced.
At first, they were fodder for laughs around the dining room table. Then Dawn's husband, Jeff Roberts, suggested she put the entries on a blog. Some 3 million page views later, a book agent came calling, and now Dawn's diary sits on a shelf at your local Barnes and Noble.
Tween Dawn, who once admonished big brother Tom to "KEEP OUT!!!!" in the pages of her diary, would be horrified at how public her childhood travails are.
Adult Dawn says she has enjoyed the ride.
It has been a journey of self-discovery. Dawn remembered that she had written in diaries. Her grandmother, who journaled nearly every day of her life, gave Dawn her first diary. It was hot pink with a cat on the cover. Dawn wasn't sure what to do with it. Grandma Gloystein said to write what happened that day, what you ate.
"Somehow, I really took that note to heart. In excruciating detail," Dawn said.
In "My 1992 Diary," published in March, Dawn notes that 370 of 380 diary entries detailed food. One such entry, dated Feb. 19, 1990, reads:
"Today for breakfast I had a ice-cream bar and gum. We did not have school today. I watched TV tell (sic) lunch. For lunch we had spaggeti (sic) O's and a popsicle. Then we went rollerskating with Susanne...we had cotton candy and Pop! Then we came home. Then we had hotdogs for supper."
Other entries offer opinionated critiques: Cupcakes with "way too much frosting." Chicken that "wasn't the best."
The published diary is not a chronology of events. There's really no narrative structure — which Dawn immediately recognized as a problem when approached about publishing. Instead, she grouped entries thematically: love, hobbies, geography, growing pains and the early 1990s, and she interspersed diary entries in Tween Dawn's voice with Adult Dawn's interpretation and humorous recall.
Adult Dawn makes fun of her looks, calling her bangs "electrocution-chic."
Anyone who came of age then will love her cultural touchstones: Bart Simpson, Kirk Cameron, "Saved by the Bell."
Anyone from Lincoln will appreciate references to the Gateway Mall, Pershing Auditorium and Nancy Bounds School of Modeling.
Anyone who survived adolescence will recognize themselves in her crushes, her angst over friend falling-outs and her (mild) rebellion against teachers and family. She describes taping a sign to her dad's rear that says "wide load" and complains about her mom's response to her apparently existential query about growing out her bangs.
I found myself laughing aloud as I read Tween Dawn's non sequiturs like "Today I spent 20 minutes on my bangs! I had to wash dishes" and Adult Dawn's musing on a floral outfit: "how many couches had to die for me to wear this?"
Tween Dawn is alive with strong feelings for a boy named Dan: "I slowly touched my hand to his genle (sic) back and scrached (sic) it softly. He looked back and smiled at me. And I smiled at him."
Adult Dawn's recasting is delightful. She explains how Clint, her neighbor boy crush, "was a thoughtful, quiet boy with glasses almost as thick as mine," and a boy named Jack who "was a man of few words but easy on the eyes — a young Luke Perry with Airwalks and a Jansport backpack."
Like a true Nebraskan, Tween Dawn frets about the weather, noting thunderstorm and tornado warnings and when the family had to hit the basement and for how long. Like an ex-Nebraskan, Adult Dawn waxes about casseroles.
You might think someone's childhood story, especially one in middle-class, suburban Lincoln, might be on the vanilla side. Adult Dawn points this out, curating from her diary entries that say: "Today was also very boring"; "Today mom and dad had work so it was pretty boring"; and "BOR-ING!"
Adult Dawn also notes how good she had it.
"I was lucky to have a happy and carefree childhood," Adult Dawn writes. "The biggest tragedy of my early years was probably the time I dropped my Walkman into the toilet."
The biggest tragedy of her earliest years, though, does not appear in the pages of "My 1992 Diary," and when I asked Dawn about it, she said she didn't cull it from her childhood journals. Dawn and older brother Tom were orphaned when their parents' plane went down in the mountains of West Virginia.
Their father, Duane Luebbe of Beaver Crossing, Nebraska, had flown his wife, Wanda, his 7-year-old son, Brian, and two other relatives to see the Huskers play Penn State in 1982. On the way home, the single-engine plane that Luebbe was piloting crashed. All aboard were killed.
Dawn was nearly 2. Tom was 4. Their aunt and uncle, Diane and Larry Gloystein, adopted them and, in the diary, when Dawn refers to "Mom" or "Dad," it is this couple she talks about.
Dawn said she has no memory of hearing the news of the accident, but her relatives never hid it from her.
"I wouldn't say it had a negative effect on my upbringing," she said. "Really, my life and influences were almost identical to my sister (Ginger) who was actually my cousin, who didn't have that happen to her. We were both still obsessed with boys in our class and drama with our friends. I feel lucky my life was drama-free and stable."
Dawn is now 34. So is Ginger. The two are about 10 months apart in age and were raised a grade apart. Ginger lives in Seattle. Tom, who is 36, lives in Lincoln. Their parents, Diane, now 60, and Larry, now 61, still live in Lincoln, too.
Dawn, who holds a fine arts degree, is a comedian and writer. She does sketch theater at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles and did a reading from "My 1992 Diary" there and at the Haymarket in Lincoln earlier this year. Currently, she is working with a writing partner on two films.
She is not, however, planning on writing a diary sequel.
Her college diary still pains her.
"It's not as fun to read. It lacks the honesty and uniqueness," Dawn said. "I wanted to be seen in a certain way versus in reality, the nerdy drama kid who mostly went from dining hall back to the dorm. I was not taking New York by storm."
Maybe not. But even that description of a self-conscious young woman coming into her own sounds ripe for the plucking.
Maybe not now. I hope in years to come, Middle-Aged Dawn will find in College Dawn what she and many others have loved about Tween Dawn: The real voice of a real person at a real point in time.